Everyone in Indiana knows that the arrival of the First Tomato of the season is both a cause of great rejoicing and a danger; since state law provides that anyone caught stealing the First Tomato may be shot dead with impunity, its arrival can be an anxious time.
Some gardeners, eagerly watching the First Tomato candidate slowly turn red day by day, have been known to pick it too soon. Since everyone knows you don’t pick it without eating it immediately, this tactic invariably leads to Premature Taste Disappointment. So most people pride themselves on having the self-control to wait until nature takes its course.
Other tomato gourmands pitch a tent next to the garden, haul out lawn chairs and hold a shotgun vigil; tomatoes grow and ripen overnight, so the most likely time for the tomato gang to strike is between 4 and 5 a.m. Unfortunately people who are going to be up all night turn it into a party with lots of alcohol, and sometimes innocent people get shot accidentally; guns and alcohol don’t mix.
And then there’s the little old lady next door, who’s been eying your tomato patch greedily for the past month; everyone knows little old ladies are up at the crack of dawn, so she tiptoes over, snatches your First Tomato, hides it in her apron pocket and tries to walk away nonchalantly. If you sleep in when she strikes, you miss the chance to bump her off scot-free and get some better neighbors next door. At any other time except First Tomato Day, shooting her is a felony.
In the ’90s some people tried installing elaborate security systems, with motion detectors, floodlights and screechy sirens to chase away thieves. Unfortunately this expensive method didn’t work; it caught a lot of rabbits who don’t eat tomatoes, and it kept the neighbors up all night. Several cities passed noise ordinances against this practice.
I was lucky this year; my First Tomato came earlier than most other people’s, so I slept well and picked it as soon as I woke up.
So far there have been no reports of violence, but the season is still young.
How did I eat it? I made a tomato sandwich. No bacon, no lettuce, just substantial white bread sliced thin, and good tomato sliced thick, with mayo. I served it on my mother’s fine china, as all your better families do.
I did not, however, put on her old CD of Mantovani’s Greatest Hits. Some traditions ought to be retired. Nor did I put on formalwear, a tradition the nouveau riche tried to start back when Reagan (“Greed is good”) was president. It never caught on anyway; tomato juice has a tendency to drip onto your pants.
How was my sandwich? Quite satisfactory, but not the best I’ve ever had. I blame the variety; modern hybrids are bred for more meat and less juice, to be less messy. But this is senseless, because the flavor a tomato is in the juice and pectin, not the meat. You wouldn’t want a dry watermelon; why would you want a dry tomato? Modern varieties are seemingly bred for people who don’t even like tomatoes.
I try to buy several different varieties; I can tell them apart when I slice into them, but I can never remember the names of the ones I like. I prefer the older varieties, now called “heirlooms.” In the good old daze you knew you ran the risk of having tomato juice drip off your chin, so you wore an old pair of jeans and kept your napkin ready.
The meat and skin of a tomato are only there to house the juice. Every recipe that calls for removing the juice and seeds should be tossed out. Tomatoes do not exist so you can hollow them out and use them as containers for chicken salad. That may look cute but it’s pointless; serve your chicken salad on the side and slice a good tomato for eating with a fork. Don’t ruin your best ingredient so it will look cute.
The First Tomato arrived three days ago; an earlier candidate was deformed and tossed out. Yesterday I picked another, which is now half-gone, and today I picked four more, two little ones, a medium-sized and a giant. My friend Scott came by and I gave him three of them, including the big one. He said, “You’ve got tomatoes already?” I was so pleased. Later he informed me he gave the two little ones to a co-worker who loves tomatoes, so I was pleased they found happy homes. This also means Scott kept the giant one for himself; human nature has not been repealed.
I got to show him my first-ever real garden; we looked at the peppers, which are still babies but twice as big as they were a few days ago. And he noticed my strawberries. Maybe I was showing off a little; human nature hasn’t been repealed.
Tonight I’m going to make my Famous Peach Cobbler; these came from South Carolina and are well-ripened. I also notice that my pal Peter has a goodlooking recipe for Peach Bread on his site; he’s even got it in PDF so you can print it out.
Now, having bragged about my Famous Cobbler (human nature still goes strong), here’s the recipe.
Josh’s Famous Peach Cobbler
3-4 ripe peaches (2 C)
2 T butter
3/4 C white flour
3/4 C sugar, depending
1/2 C milk
1 t baking powder
pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 400º.
Melt butter in 9×9-inch baking dish in the oven. Peel, pit and slice peaches. Remove baking dish and dump in peaches. In medium mixing bowl, mix dry ingredients well, add milk and stir to a smooth batter. Dump on top of peaches and bake 25-30 minutes until golden brown.
Two things make this great; it’s so simple and so good, and how it looks going into the oven is not how it looks when it comes out. You think it’s going to be a conglomerated mess, but no, the batter rises around and over the peaches, forms a soft crust and looks fantastic.
The same formula works for other kinds of fresh fruit, even canned peaches and pie fillings. Even a novice cook will get compliments on this one, while the fancy cooks who like to slave over their desserts may even realize that sometimes simpler is better.++